Unexpected sounds non-selectively inhibit active visual stimulus representations

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
C. Soh, Jan R Wessel


The brain's capacity to process unexpected events is key to cognitive flexibility. The most well-known effect of unexpected events is the interruption of attentional engagement (distraction). We tested whether unexpected events interrupt attentional representations by activating a neural mechanism for inhibitory control. This mechanism is most well-characterized within the motor system. However, recent work showed that it is automatically activated by unexpected events and can explain some of their non-motor effects (e.g., on working memory representations). Here, human participants attended to lateralized flickering visual stimuli, producing steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEP) in the scalp-electroencephalogram. After unexpected sounds, the SSVEP was rapidly suppressed. Using a functional localizer (stop-signal) task and independent component analysis, we then identified a fronto-central EEG source whose activity indexes inhibitory motor control. Unexpected sounds in the SSVEP task also activated this source. Using single-trial analyses, we found that sub-components of this source differentially relate to sound-related SSVEP changes: while its N2 component predicted the subsequent suppression of the attended-stimulus ...Continue Reading

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